Sports Performance… Those two words evoke a lot of different meanings and feelings in ALL of us. Maybe it brings back memories of Indian run drills out in the scorching sun, or maybe it hits a little closer to home because of your mandatory weight training session tomorrow at the crack of dawn. For some of us, it’s painful, for others, our state of focus. Most of us go through it and experience different styles of training for each sport, but we all do it for one reason: TO GET BETTER AT WHAT WE DO.
Although there are different techniques and training goals for each sport, the beautiful thing is that sports performance as a whole is that it is universal and its principles can be applied to ANY sport. Keep these points in mind in your approach to training and it will help you greatly in improving your overall results.
Alright so the key starting out is….
Figure out where you are physically and where you want to go
This tip might sound like a no-brainer, but honestly; how many of us really (and I mean reeeeally) take a good look at our strengths and weaknesses and systematically work towards improving them? I know until recently that was not me. There’s no shame in admitting it, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that just because you have performance goals and are an athlete, that you have a well-rounded exercise routine and are equally fit in all areas. I’m sure that you are great and will be great, but don’t assume you’re “hot stuff” out the gate. It’s said that “many athletes excel in their specific sport but are lacking in other elements of fitness. Consider a marathoner who almost never trains for strength, or a power lifter who neglects cardio training.”
Now keep in mind that as you move towards refining your skills, whether on the field or in the weight-room; if you can’t perform a specific movement properly, then range of motion and technique should be the first thing you tackle before bringing power, strength, or agility to the table. Major Key: never add external resistance to an improper or incomplete movement pattern. Doing so will increase your risk of injury and potentially put you down the road to recovery rather than the path of improving your game.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “The Karate Kid”, but when you think about it it’s like how Mr. Miyagi had Daniel start his training doing the simple exercise of “circular motions” (aka wax on, wax off). As dumb and simple as it seemed in the moment, he needed to build a basic foundation that would aid him in mastering karate. It is no different for weightlifting and sports; to get better at both you’re going to have to take an honest look at your foundation, the basic movement patterns (squat, hip hinge, press, pull, and rotation), look for imbalances and progress/ regress them as needed. Never just assume you can perform basic movements correctly.
For example, if you can’t perform a body-weight squat correctly, you should regress to a wall-ball squat. This will help you work out any inconsistencies in form AND assist in bearing the weight/ load on your body if it is too much at first. If you happen to have fantastic form during the squat however, progress to an exercise that challenges your balance when the time is right. It’s all just a matter of progressing or regressing movements when it’s necessary. Doing this for each category of movement will help you understand where your strengths and weaknesses are and a road-map on how to improve them.
After you’ve got good form, great movement, and a stable base/ core under raps, you can move up in the world to agility training for your sport. BUT never before you develop these things. Who knows how many countless athletes ended their careers from injury or didn’t reach the heights of their full potential all because the built their movements on poor form, DO NOT BUILD MOVEMENTS ON POOR FORM. The fewer mistakes you have in your mobility and performance is that much more of an advantage you have over your opponents. “Even after incorporating more difficult agility drills (if necessary), you should include stability and mobility training during the warm-up and cool-down of an athlete’s workouts.”
“Poor postural stability increases the risk for a repetitive use injury,”
Watch the way you move
Sometimes simply taking a step back and observing yourself will make a world of difference in any sport. It would be super helpful to have someone record you in action (FILM STUDY!!). We’d all like to think we have the coordination of champions coupled with the grace of dancers when we move, but eventually we’ve gotta get real. Be completely honest when examining the way you move, and if you can’t pick up on any points of improvement find someone who can. Finding room to grow will only help you later.
Break down the movement you want to address. For example, a tennis swing is a combination of a lunge and a rotation. Start by working on form during lunges and then add rotation with speed and resistance as appropriate.
This is an example of skill training, which should be higher intensity, with longer recovery or active rest periods. This different from a conditioning session which involves simpler movements with a focus on keeping your heart rate elevated.
Master the fundamentals of Cardio Training
In my opinion it doesn’t really matter what sport you’re preparing for; cardiorespiratory training is one of the major keys in giving you the edge and improving your performance. Cardiorespiratory health is the heart and lungs ability to effectively transport oxygen to working muscle tissue. To improve this will mean that you can play longer, even under strenuous conditions and still have energy to perform at a high level. That is vital for any sport. So you The first thing you should address is “Do I have the endurance to last to the finish?” and you should gain endurance before even considering adding speed training. “Speed is always secondary to endurance.”
Think about some endurance sports—cycling, running, swimming, rowing crew. Athletes in these sports have to be prepared for the length and duration of the event before they can address the need to increase their speed or sprinting ability. This requires training in Phase 3: Aerobic-endurance Training.
Once your endurance is at a place that allows you to compete in your sport or event, most of your training time should be that of moderate-intensity. Periodized training programs should include time spent training in Phase 3 as well as Phase 4: Anaerobic-power Training. Keep in mind that the speed/hill training/interval work performed in Phase 4 is very taxing and requires adequate recovery time to be effective.
The ACE IFT Model has a three-zone model for cardiorespiratory training, which will work well when performing Phase 3 and Phase 4 workouts.
- Zone 1 training (below VT1): 70 to 80% of training time
- Zone 2 training [from VT1 to just below the second ventilatory threshold (VT2)]: less than 10% of training time
- Zone 3 training (at or above VT2): 10 to 20% of training time
Keep in mind that training sessions of high intensity should only be performed once or twice each week with at least 48 hours of recovery between workouts.
NUTRITION FOR SPORTS PERFORMANCE
Nutrition in the life of lifters and athletes is important, and remains the silent factor that will ultimately make or brake you. It sounds dramatic I know, but here’s the thing; I can lie to you about how many lifts I did in a training session and you might believe me, I may be able to skip a few exercises during a workout and might be able to make up for it, but when it comes to the body and its source of energy it can’t be fooled, and if you do it wrong (especially as an athlete) it’s going to call you out on your BS…HARD.
To perform at the highest level, you have to prepare the body for exertion with the right energy, with the right foods and drinks. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to keep your nutrition on point for any fitness occasion.
During training drink between 550-800/ml per hour.
We’ve all seen the effects of dehydration in sports or even experienced them first-hand and make an effort to prevent being in that situation. However did you know there is also such a thing as overhydrating yourself? Overhydration is real my friends, and its consequences can be serious. Acute overhydration can cause hyponatremic (low sodium) induced coma and death. What matters is finding balance in the amount of liquid that refreshes the body.
Most athletes satisfy hydration needs in the 550-800 ml/hr intake range. Cool weather exercise around half of that depending on the environment. Big athlete, very hot and humid conditions—around 900 ml. There is a chance you’re going to be sweating more than that amount, but you can’t replace that fluid ounce-for-ounce. Keep in mind that drinking over a liter of fluid on an hourly basis can heighten your chances of performance issues and health problems, so be conscious of what you’re taking in. Regular fluid intake close to or over a liter hourly really increases the potential for serious performance and health problems, so be mindful of how much you’re taking in. If that doesn’t paint a clear enough picture, think nausea, bloating, and DNFs, but worse than anything you’ve previously experienced. “drinking to replace” or “drink even when you’re not thirsty”—is going to cost you in the long run.
Keep caloric intake around 300 cal/hr during exercise.
If you thought drinking to replace lost liquids was a bad idea, its counterpart “eating” to replace could potentially be worse. The human body doesn’t have the time nor the chemical processing to take ALL the nutrients you put in it and effectively replace those being lost rapidly through physical activity. I wish it were that simple, but our bodies are complex bio-machines that take time to process the good and the bad, so imagine trying to cram the 600-900 calories per hour back into yourself that you are potentially losing through training—it won’t end well, more than likely leading to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and bloating.
If you want to achieve your best performance, replenish calories in “body cooperative” amounts, allowing your fat stores to make up the difference, which they will easily do. For most athletes, 240-300 calories per hour will do the job. For lighter athletes, 180-200 cal/hr, and for you larger athletes out there try slightly over 300 cal/hr.
Take in quality, complex carbohydrates to fuel your activity.
You want to make sure that those 240- 300 calories you’re fueling your game with are QUALITY macronutrients, which means you need to stay away from simple sugars and gravitate towards complex carbohydrates. You’ve no doubt heard of “garbage in, garbage out,” right? Well simple sugars (glucose, sucrose, fructose, and dextrose) are the garbage you want to avoid. They’re inefficient at fueling exercise for one, are harmful when consumed regularly, and usually accompany processed, artificial foods. They have no place in your body.
Simple sugars, because they are easily broken down by the body, create drastic, sudden spikes in blood sugar levels; and with the spike comes the crash when these sugars have been used up. The body has a limited ability in absorbing these carbs, which means that you would have to consume calories to meet the ratio of carbohydrates necessary to fuel the body for a longer period of time. Complex carbohydrates, however are absorbed at a much slower rate giving you a steady, measured release of reliable energy—without the hills and valleys.
If you want an idea of carbohydrates that will digest slower and give you a steadier release of energy, you can use the glycemic index as a guide.
Liquid fuels should be your main energy source, especially during prolonged training and races.
Solid food in moderation during prolonged exercise isn’t a bad thing, it can be a nice change from the same old sports drinks, but you should:
Avoid foods that have refined sugar and saturated fats. You should only provide your body with what it needs to perform at its highest level for any event. I know you’re going to be burning A LOT of calories, and in the moment you’re going to want to eat anything sitting in front of you. You’ll just burn it off anyway right? Remember what you put in your body will help determine what you get out of it. Solid food should be a welcome support, but not the main course for your physical needs. Because solid food takes more time, energy and water to digest than liquid, depending on it too heavily can leave you feeling lethargic, bloated, and nauseated. Liquid fuels digest and absorb faster, which will keep you alert and moving in any situation.
Keep your electrolytes replenished during exercise.
Any mineral that balances the amount of fluids in your body, moves nutrients and waste in and out of you, regulates acid/ph levels and makes sure that the brain, nerves and muscles work the way they should is a pretty big deal, and electrolytes fit the bill. When the amount of electrolytes become too low (or even too high) it causes fluctuations in bodily water levels. This over time leads to cramps, spasms, muscle revolt, irregular and rapid heartbeat, and major bonk. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait until your body’s hazard lights start blinking; intake a leveled amount of electrolytes (sodium, calcium, potassium, chlorine, phosphate, and magnesium) to set yourself up for success.
Refill your body with carbohydrates and protein ASAP after each exercise session.
You may have spent hours in rigorous training, but remember that even after training is over, your body is still working hard spending multiple times that repairing itself and rebuilding fiber and tissue to help you perform on a higher level next time. The time immediately after workouts you spend refueling is just as important as the workout itself. If you neglect to refill the tank, you’ll never get the full value out of all the work you just put in
Work longer or with more intensity if you’d like, but it won’t mean much of anything if you ignore the body’s need for energy. Give your body what it needs immediately after exercise when it’s most receptive to replenishment, and you’ll be amazed at the results—improved recovery time, greater ability to handle physical stress, and larger quantities of fuel storage in the muscles.
It’s not that these points are hard, but they will require you to be conscious; conscious of your abilities and limitations, conscious of what you’re taking in and exerting in every training session. But that’s what it takes to become a better athlete; none of the great heroes of sports sailed through there careers on cruise-control, but had to be aware of the elements and techniques that would improve their game in every session. I hope you do the same; focus, take an objective look at how you train, your nutrition, even how you rest and move forward with determination and intention; you might be surprised what you’ll be able to accomplish with a few adjustments. Until next time my friends, STAY STRONG.